Saving Islam From Terrorists

It didn't take long after last week's killing of some 150 children by Muslim hostage-takers in Russia for Islamic leaders around the world to condemn this brutal act against such innocent lives.

In fact, the pace is quickening for a post-9/11 movement among Muslims to salvage Islam's reputation and to remind both the faithful and the rest of humanity that this religion is based on tolerant, life-affirming precepts. (See story.)

One Saudi columnist, Khaled Hamed al-Suleiman, writing in the government daily Okaz, even called for a "true jihad" (a nonviolent one) against those bent on a militant jihad against the innocent.

"They turned today's Islam into something having to do with decapitations, the slashing of throats, abducting innocent civilians and exploding people," he wrote. "They have fixed the image of Muslims in the eyes of the world as barbarians and savages who are not good for anything except slaughtering people. The time has come for Muslims to be the first to come out against those interested in abducting Islam in the same way they abducted innocent children."

Muslim reaction also was especially strong against last month's kidnapping of two French journalists by Islamic militants in Iraq.

The United States and its allies could have no better partners than moderate Muslims asserting their claim to Islam's peaceful ways. The greatest failure of Al Qaeda so far has been the resistance of Muslims to its vision of creating a giant, pan-Islamic community by force and under its leadership. And its greatest fear is to be ostracized by the world's 1 billion Muslims.

While the world watches the US-led war in Iraq and Al Qaeda tries to turn Muslims against "the West," the more significant campaign is a verbal "civil war" within Islam itself.

This theological contest is centered on Saudi Arabia, whose monarchy long has supported a type of fundamentalist Islam that preaches intolerance. Official attempts to tone down the teaching of violence are going slowly, with the royal regime fearing for its own survival. But elsewhere in the Middle East, in mosques and the media, the cry is stronger to reject extremist Islam.

Patient support for these causes is essential. Just as the US had confidence during the cold war that communism's internal contradictions would force it to collapse in the Soviet Union, it can rely on Al Qaeda and other such terrorist groups to self-destruct by the error of their ways.

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